THE HEAT IS ON

IN DI­REC­TOR MAYA GAL­LUS’S TIMELY DOC, GREAT WOMEN CHEFS ARE REIN­VENT­ING THE KITCHEN

NOW Magazine - Hot Docs - - Cover Story - By SU­SAN G. COLE

THE HEAT: A KITCHEN R(E)VOLUTION (Maya Gal­lus, Canada). 75 min­utes. April 26, 9:30 pm, Hot Docs Cin­ema; April 28, 1:15 pm, TIFF 1; May 6, 3:30 pm, Is­abel Bader. hot­docs.ca.

Of course there are snacks, a spread of cheeses, veg­gies and cook­ies on Maya Gal­lus’s cof­fee ta­ble, ready for me to tuck into as we talk. They are art­fully ar­rayed, though not as spec­tac­u­larly as the food in her movie The Heat, set to open this year’s Hot Docs fes­ti­val on April 26.

Via in­ter­views with ex­pert chefs and ex­pertly plunk­ing her team into their kitchens, Gal­lus probes the ques­tion of whether women helm­ing res­tau­rants can – or even want to – trans­form kitchen cul­ture, its hi­er­ar­chies and its misog­yny. And she makes sure that the dishes th­ese gifted women cre­ate look gor­geous on the screen.

Gal­lus was in­spired not only by her own love of food (this is her sec­ond film on the sub­ject af­ter 2010’s Dish, about fe­male servers), but by the ex­tent to which fe­male culi­nary wizards are more or less invisible, not only through­out his­tory but in the present – mag­a­zine cov­ers, in­clud­ing NOW’s, have fea­tured all-male group shots of chefs.

Gal­lus trav­elled the world to find her sub­jects, in­clud­ing Miche­lin-starred Anne-So­phie Pic in Va­lence, France, An­gela Hart­nett (Mu­rano) in Lon­don, UK, the great Anita Lo of An­nisa in New York City, which she closed during the shoot­ing of the film, and Suzanne Barr, op­er­a­tor of the now-shut­tered Satur­day Dinette here in Les­lieville.

She knew they’d be smart and com­mit­ted, but Gal­lus was sur­prised by how quiet their kitchens were.

“I’ll ad­mit it made me ner­vous,” she says speak­ing eas­ily – we’ve known each other for years. “At first I thought, ‘Oh my God, it’s so quiet in here. There’s no drama.’ Th­ese women are so ac­com­plished and so fo­cused on their work

“TH­ESE WOMEN ARE STRONG AND AS­SERTIVE, BUT THEY’RE NOT A CAR­I­CA­TURE OF GOR­DON RAM­SAY.”

and it was like watch­ing an artist work or a painter paint. And that can be pretty bor­ing.”

But her movie is not bor­ing, mainly be­cause Gal­lus and her team are so skilled at mak­ing the most of their lim­ited bud­get. They man­age to stay out of the way – cru­cial in the bow­els of a restau­rant – yet catch en­light­en­ing mo­ments: Chum­ley’s chef Victoria Blamey warns a sous chef to watch his tone; a cook, when crit­i­cized by an­other boss, is told by a long-time em­ployee, “Just say, ‘Yes, chef’”; Pic ag­o­nizes over how to plate a beau­ti­ful dish us­ing chef’s tweez­ers.

“Th­ese are pow­er­ful women and they do take up their space,” Gal­lus al­lows. “They’re not quiet as in meek. They’re strong, as­sertive and very clear about what has to be done and when and why, but they’re not tak­ing on a car­i­ca­ture of Gor­don Ram­say.”

In fact, Hart­nett had first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence with the fa­mously tru­cu­lent Ram­say, sur­vived the ex­pe­ri­ence and re­mains his friend.

“She trained under Ram­say and, on her own, she tried yelling,” Gal­lus says, “but re­al­ized, ‘It doesn’t work for me. It’s too stress­ful, it makes ev­ery­body stressed and it’s not very ef­fi­cient.’”

The chefs weren’t easy to wran­gle. Gal­lus com­pares the ex­er­cise to herd­ing cats.

“I thought it would be easy in the sense that they’re in their fuck­ing res­tau­rants – how hard could it be? But they’re work­ing all the time so they’re not on email or their phones. Get­ting Pic was like try­ing to ar­range an in­ter­view with the Pope.”

Now on hia­tus from the in­dus­try and liv­ing in Florida, Suzanne Barr, who will at­tend the fes­ti­val, says Gal­lus’s per­se­ver­ance was epic.

“I thank her for her pa­tience,” raves Barr on the phone, “for tex­ting me and call­ing me and know­ing how de­mand­ing the in­dus­try is; how when some­one calls you and you’ve just worked a full shift and then you’re back up the next morn­ing... I didn’t get back to her. But she was so con­sid­er­ate of me and my time.”

Af­ter Satur­day Dinette, Barr worked at the Glad­stone, rein­vent­ing the resto there, and is cur­rently de­vel­op­ing other projects. She says Gal­lus is a very skilled in­ter­viewer, gen­tly in­sis­tent, shoot­ing long, thor­ough con­ver­sa­tions that get strong re­sults.

“We had mo­ments when she found it dif­fi­cult to get what she wanted,” Barr al­lows, “but she kept push­ing me and ask­ing the ques­tion, find­ing a way for me to slow down, gather my thoughts and be able to speak the true hon­esty of my point.”

Be­cause she’s sen­si­tive to the fi­nan­cial de­mands of op­er­at­ing a restau­rant, Gal­lus made sure to talk to Char­lotte Lan­g­ley, who runs a pri­vate pop-up.

“Char­lotte is an ex­am­ple of how women just do it,” says Gal­lus. “I wanted to show that you don’t have to have brick and mor­tar. And I loved that she was do­ing pop-ups, which is a trend. There are is­sues with land­lords, rents are crazy and run­ning a resto is a crazy dream.”

Not all the chefs were warm and toasty. Blamey is tough, claim­ing you can’t as­sume women will be sweeter and nice. Like many chefs, Amanda Co­hen of up­scale NYC veg­e­tar­ian spot Dirt Candy says the in­tense hi­er­ar­chy of the kitchen bri­gade can be use­ful. And Lan­g­ley says she loved to up­end the sex­ist par­a­digm and sex­u­al­ize her young male work­ers.

Gal­lus, who’s been mak­ing women-cen­tred films for years, in­clud­ing docs on writ­ers El­iz­a­beth Smart and Mazo de la Roche and a film fo­cus­ing on fe­male erot­ica, is just fine with that.

“I’m in­ter­ested in telling women’s sto­ries and in the com­plex­ity of women, not the san­i­tized vi­sion of women as per­fect. That’s not at all in­ter­est­ing, and it’s also un­true.”

For over 15 years, Gal­lus made movies with her part­ner in life, Jus­tine Pim­lott, through Red Queen Pro­duc­tions – films like Girl In­side, a ground­break­ing doc about a trans woman’s jour­ney, and Derby Crazy Love, an ex­hil­a­rat­ing in­side look into the world of roller derby.

Pim­lott has taken a po­si­tion with the Na­tional Film Board, so this is the first movie Gal­lus has made on her own since 2003. It still has all the hall­marks of a Red Queen film.

“I al­ways feel the ur­gency to say some­thing, but what we’ve al­ways tried to do at Red Queen is say some­thing but trick peo­ple by mak­ing an en­ter­tain­ing film. Maybe they’ll learn some­thing in the process but not feel hit over the head with it.”

Maya Gal­lus, here at the Glad­stone, says ar­rang­ing an in­ter­view with one par­tic­u­lar chef was like try­ing to meet the Pope.

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